Digital application trends are transforming early education

We can all agree that today’s generation of kids will grow up in a vastly different environment than that of previous generations.  As a 90’s kid, my parents had a few steadfast rules in our household: no cell phone until we were 16 years old, and no cable TV (Monday night 7th Heaven viewing was pretty much the only show we tuned into all week).  Additionally, the only access to a screen during school was to play Oregon Trail during recess, or the occasional Bill Nye viewing in science class.  Fast forward just a few years and the landscape for children and technology has totally changed, especially when it comes to education.  ‘Screen time’ regulation is now a commonality in most households, and remote learning formats resulting from the COVID pandemic will have a lasting impact on children in this generation.  Within these shifting boundaries of early education, there are a few digital applications trends that are shaping the way children learn in virtual settings: 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) applications are exposing young children to STEM learning opportunities, in a more hands on setting through a digital application.  STEM apps are teaching kids to expand their horizons and experiment through activities and games which are specifically geared to make learning fun.  One app, Hopscotch: Coding for kids, is giving our younger generations the platform to learn the basics of coding through simple and intuitive building blocks.  With these building blocks mastered, users can also create their own games and animations, giving kids the ability to be creative.  Another application, The Robot Factory by Tinybop, allows kids to build customized robots in a virtual factory.  Children can experiment and design their own robots by mixing and matching different Robot parts within the application. (Source: https://www.educationalappstore.com/best-apps/stem-apps-for-kids)

Virtual reality (VR) applications are another major trend, providing a super unique learning opportunity for children today.  Through my research, I learned that the development of VR applications for kids is especially challenging, as creators must consider which topics and technical aspects are appropriate for the developing brains of children.  As such, it often takes additional development time and testing to get such applications approved for distribution, but once complete, VR applications can provide a super unique learning opportunity.  For example, InMind VR, sends children into their brain to see how it all works.  The player will find and destroy bad neurons using a laser, all while learning about the different functions of the various parts of the brain.  In version 2 of the application, the user is taken on a virtual journey with one character through their life, all whilst making decisions along the way.  Titans of Space is another virtual reality application letting students learn about the innerworkings of the solar system.  A three-dimensional view of the solar system allows students to decipher the size of earth in comparison to the other planets, and learn about orbital space and stars.  (Source:

Self-regulation applications are another major tech trend for early education applications.  For those unfamiliar, self-regulation is the ability for young children to understand and manage behaviors and reactions to feelings from external stimulus.  Mental health has become a topic of increasing importance in recent years, and the awareness of this issue has led to the development of many applications geared towards children.  Mightier, is a digital application for kids which marries video games and biofeedback to help children learn to balance their emotions.  The user wears a heart monitor while playing a videogame, and as the game becomes more challenging and their heartrate begins to elevate, the game pauses so that the player can breathe deeply and calm down before resuming the game.  This technique teaches kids how to control their body and overcome stressful situations.  Emotional ABCs, is another application teaching kids aged 4-11 how to better cope with their emotions using curriculum based videos and games.  The modules provide kids with techniques to handle their frustrations and problem solve among stressful situations. (Source: https://www.kidsintransitiontoschool.org/cool-apps-for-practicing-self-regulation-skills/)

While these applications provide today’s generation of youth with unique learning opportunities, there is a question of the long-term effects of technology usage from such a young age.  Are these applications really giving young kids a leg up, or is early introduction to technology doing more harm than good?

In my opinion (through much research!)… it depends.  Yes, there are tons of benefits of early education learning applications as noted above.  But with these benefits come some pitfalls for parents & educators to avoid when introducing these digital tools as a means of education for younger students:

  • Focus young students on applications that require real mental effort and participation, as these applications tend to provide more learning opportunities for kids. Alternatively, apps with many distracting elements that require lots of swiping / tapping, can be confusing and typically don’t provide as many learning opportunities for kids. 
  • Digital application learning should be done with an adult!  Don’t assume that applications should be completed as a solo activity; with both digital and adult interaction, a child can see how an adult might approach a problem, or ask for help when stuck.
  • As most things in life are, digital learning applications are best used in moderation.  In other words, kids should have a variety of avenues from which to learn, and I think that learning applications should be used to supplement more traditional learning styles rather than to replace them.  Furthermore, experts recommend limiting the use of these learning applications to earlier in the day, as the lighting of these apps can negatively impact kids sleeping habits.

All in all, I think early education digital applications will continue to evolve and have a lasting impact on the way kids learn.  My hope is that parents & educators strive to fully understand the long-term effects on children development and use these apps as supplemental learning opportunities for children. What are your expectations for early education for the next generation, and how will digital applications impact this?

Other sources:

https://www.todaysparent.com/family/activities/do-educational-apps-actually-work-heres-how-to-ensure-theyre-effective/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3071177/Educational-apps-bad-sugary-foods-kids.html

7 comments

  1. ritellryan · ·

    As someone whose fashion sense is from the 90s, I loved the intro of the post. I also think STEM and VR applications are very helpful in supplementing education (or being a good base for fun games) and if they are not used already, will be going forward once their usage is refined a bit. Having 1 in person and 1 remote class, nothing will truly replace the in-person education experience (at least in my view). However, being able to do more “immersive” learning and enrichment with apps will certainly help. I think the self-regulation apps are a little much for kids in the 4-11 age bracket you mentioned. Letting them play and experience how they balance their emotions is part of their own learning experience and journey rather than a machine telling them potential blind spots.

  2. While I’m a big believer in tech for education, I’m also a big believer in limiting its influence as well. During the pandemic, I absolutely think it has been a net positive. I guess the option in the old days would just be reading a bunch of books, but who are we kidding? It would devolve into sitcoms. I do think there’s real value in tech, but I also think there is real value in turning it off as well. The real key is to know when.

  3. conoreiremba · ·

    I couldn’t agree more in terms of moderation. Kids’ screen time has soared during the pandemic and I wonder about long-term impacts. I recently had a conversation with my aunt back in Ireland about her young son, who used to adore Soccer and Rugby, but he now seems to have lost all interest, with COVID putting a temporary hold on those activities. He instead fills the gap by increasing his screen time.
    There are definitely great opportunities for technology in education though and I love the point you made about mental health benefits. I think the world moves a lot faster than it did when we were kids (fellow 90’s kid here!) but this speed can be overwhelming for young kids and so I love the piece on the self-regulation apps. I definitely agree with Ryan that there is an element of self-learning that kids must go through as part of growing up but I think any technology that can help kids manage the increased number of external stresses in this day and age is a big win.
    The point you made about adult supervision is very important but again it is not easy to get right and I think one striking revelation that parents have realized during COVID as they not only work but teach their kids from home and that is, is “wow, school teachers are seriously underpaid”. I think that future digital applications will come in the form of slower incremental adoption in the classroom and just like the future workplace has been changed by the pandemic, I hope the future classroom will also. Great post Abigail and ties in very well with your #D for this week!

  4. Jie Zhao · ·

    Great deep dive on the impact of digital transformation on young children – definitely a very relevant topic after a year of remote learning! As a 90’s kid myself also, I remember only having two Macintosh desktops in my classroom, and having to take turns using them! I personally think that while all of the new technologies with Hopscotch and VR are great to give children exposure to technology and prepare them for the digital world, I think these should be used in addition to the current curriculums. I think that students can learn a lot from social interactions and how to communicate and collaborate with others that just can’t be replaced by technologies. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Scott Siegler · ·

    This is a great post that covers an interesting topic with a lot of depth. I knew that there were some productive apps out there for kids, but I didn’t realize the breadth and nuance that you’ve described. I definitely appreciate that these apps exist, especially given the number of apps that are not so educational and don’t promote health or moderating emotions at all. I feel like while the landscape has changed, the concept will stay the same for parents and educators to strike the appropriate balance between education and fun.

  6. I was very much like you Abigail in that my parents limited my access to technology throughout my childhood. And as much as I wanted a cell phone as early as possible, I’m glad that they did not provide it until I was in high school. When I hear of how family members and friends use technology for educating their young children it surprises me based on my own experience. I think going forward the trend towards educating children through technology will only increase as the pandemic has increased the reliance on it. There are now a generation of children who have gotten educated for a full year virtually, so reversing from that style of learning seems difficult to me. I hope that it is more of a supplement than a heavily used tool in educating young children. Learning in person from others still seems like the best option to me.

  7. williammooremba · ·

    Very well done post. One thing I have noticed is that with a lot of the technology I had growing up using most digital applications by myself wasn’t even an option. I grew up with computers, but for most of my childhood I used shared computers in a family room. It wasn’t until high school I got my own desktop, and crucially that wasn’t connected to the internet. I also wasn’t allowed a television in my room. I think for the most part if I wanted to use technology by myself, I was constrained to a Gameboy. I have also noticed a shift with my cousin’s children at family events. A lot of the time growing up when I was interacting with my cousins during things like holidays it would be playing something like board or card games inside or sports games outside. Now a see a lot more tablets or Nintendo switches and in some cases, children playing by themselves. I think, in general the new technology environment looks different for kids today.

%d bloggers like this: